Diebenkorn’s Notes on Beginning a Painting

Richard Diebenkorn is one of my painting heroes. I love the way he breaks up the space of a sheet of paper or canvas, his use of color, the way he allows the work or history of a piece to show, and how he worked both in representation and pure abstraction. He had some ideas he kept in mind when starting new work, and I keep a copy of these tacked up in my studio. Whether you’re an artist or not, what do these mean to you?

“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
3. DO search.
4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
9. Tolerate chaos.
10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Reference: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/diebenkorn-ten-rules

The Music of the Wind Paintings and Why Van Gogh Maybe Didn’t Kill Himself…

I’m fascinated by the wind. Cultures create all sorts of stories to try and make sense of the wind and how it affects us. My grandparents lived in Caen, France for a while when I was little. It’s a very windy place, and I will always remember how the wind there made me feel. It tossed me around, made me feel little, and made me feel generally uneasy. On the other hand, winds clean the air, carry scents, and even create power with wind turbines.

Music of the Wind 1, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

I made these paintings as I thought of the wind: how it feels when we’re outside when it’s hot or cold, how it shapes the earth…

Music of the Wind 2, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
The wind is mysterious. It’s such a powerful force and yet we can’t see it.
In these particular paintings, I’m layering shapes and color evocative of landscapes seen both from ground level and from above (from an airplane for example). I also layer gestural marks and shapes of color to convey the energy of the outdoors.

These paintings are currently available from my web shop until August 27th. Find them HERE.

Music of the Wind 3, oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

There’s a strong wind called Le Mistral in the south of France. 

According to popular culture throughout history, this wind has been accused of everything from making people crazy to inciting murder. So in that vein, here’s an interesting tidbit I found this week… Van Gogh, who famously lived in the south of France, maybe didn’t commit suicide. Recent forensic research shows that he may have been instead murdered by a local group of kids who used to bully him… Read more about why this could be true, how the story of his suicide came about, and why a lot of folks are angry about it on the Charmed Studio and on Vanity Fair.

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Searching for titles

I’ve just gotten back from a trip with my family to France, and I’m jumping right into the thick of it: TITLING PAINTINGS. Titling artworks inspires dread in the hearts of many artists. How do we put words to a thing that we don’t have the words to describe? Isn’t this why we work in visual media anyway? Kidding aside though, while titling doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, I have a process for coming up with titles. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry and take note of any poems, phrases or particular words that jump out at me. I keep a little notebook of these words and phrases and then either use those as titles, or come up with titles by riffing off her work. Her writing cuts to the essential about what I want to express in my work. I love the way her poem below “Mysteries, Yes” encapsulates the myriad feelings of wonder we can feel as we go about our lives.

Mary Oliver - Mysteries, Yes
From the book “Devotions”

Why does fitness matter as an artist? It’s not what you think.

Artists get a bad rap. Whether it’s the myth of the starving artist, or the stories of drug and alcohol abuse, there aren’t a lot of highly visible models for artists to follow for a healthy sustainable career. An artist who takes care of themselves, spends time with their family, and behaves like a professional doesn’t necessarily make for the most exciting story, but the fact is, it makes for a more productive, well-rounded, happier artist, who is more likely to keep making their artwork and have a thriving life and career.
Here I am hoofing it up one of my favorite hills in PA…
Fitness is an important tool for me. I need to move my body to burn off excess energy (outside if possible), and most importantly, I find that it clears my head, focuses my mind, and helps manage my mood – an essential part of spending long hours working on my own.
I believe that to make our most honest artwork, it helps to have a clear head. When I don’t exercise – especially outside – I am prone to depression and anxiety. Riding my bike is especially potent – the intense exercise burns off excess energy and the repetitive action of pedaling helps to tap right into a meditative state. This is the best recipe for me. As a bonus, riding is a social activity, a good counter balance to days working alone.
Tying fishing lines to hang origami birds for Paper Mountain
I stand most of the day and my work sometimes involves reaching and twisting into strange positions (such as the week of installation required to hang Paper Mountain – Click here to watch a timelapse of the week-long process). My work involves making repetitive motions for long periods of time (when using painting or cutting tools or folding paper for instance), so repetitive injury is a risk for me. In addition to more vigorous exercise, I practice yoga on most mornings to stave off pain from new and old injuries and to calm my mind. When I’m being especially good, I also finish the day with a few minutes of physical therapy and calisthenics for basic strength and injury prevention.
A big part of making art sustainable for me is to take care of myself. It’s hard enough to spend long hours on my own acting as both artist and entrepreneur, but if I’m not mentally and physically fit, it makes it difficult to stay focused and to work without physical pain.
The old myth of the starving unhealthy artist is just that – OLD. I’d rather keep myself healthy so I can keep on making my work long into old age.
What works for you? What keeps you healthy and happy? I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at: [email protected]

If you found this interesting, you’ll like my post: 11 things athletes do that will make you a better artist

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The appeal of working big and working little

People ask me if I prefer working big or small. I do enjoy working on both scales. Each size has its benefits. The experience of making a large or small painting is very different – both for the artist and for the viewer. I choose to work at both scales for the following reasons:
Painting in a field
Working Small
Small work can often be completed in one sitting and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. This makes it particularly well suited for traveling or when you don’t have a dedicated studio space. I used to make small works when we lived in Australia and the contents of my “studio” could fit into a cardboard box that lived on our dining room table. I still make small works when traveling, when I want to work outdoors, or when trying out new ideas. Sometimes smaller work ends up inspiring larger pieces.
When I make plein air paintings – the ones I paint on location – I am making both a small artwork and also in a way, doing research for more abstract work. While I look at a landscape and make the small paintings outside, I build a memory bank of images, shapes, colors, light effects, and even sounds and smells that I can later refer to in more abstract pieces.
For you, the viewer, the experience with a small painting is more intimate than with a large one. Only one person at a time can really savor a small work at close proximity.
Starting two big paintings
Working Big
A large painting takes much longer to make than a little painting. Even the preparation of the painting surface (canvas or wood panel) takes much longer. It takes a couple of hours to build and stretch a big canvas, and painting each layer of gesso (a kind of primer) takes about 30 minutes compared to just a few minutes per layer for a small painting.
Working on a large painting can be daunting at first – that’s a lot canvas to fill! – but on the other hand, it’s exhilarating to make something larger than myself. I can use my whole body – working crouched close to the ground or reaching out. In the case of super big work like Paper Mountain, I worked with assistants using scaffolding, lifts, and ladders. It’s exciting to create something bigger than we are as humans.
We have a particular experience when we stand far from artwork, and another experience when we are close to it. The piece fills our field of view. I think about this as I make a piece – it’s important to me to create a special experience for viewers of my work. I want to draw you in to examine the work more closely. When I create little surprises in a painting – details that can only be appreciated at close range – I am rewarding you for coming closer. My work is driven by my experience in the outdoors, so when I make something big, I hope that the work transports viewers to the outdoors or a memory of being outside.
Making bigger work requires a longer commitment and focus than making small work. Keeping the energy of the piece going and working through tough spots can be challenging because of the scale of the work. On the other hand, making big work is rewarding just by its sheer scale. There is something special about making something larger than yourself.

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Check out the following blog posts if you’re curious…
This one if you want to see what it’s like to build a super big canvas
This post if you want to see how my team put together Paper Mountain installation. And here’s the project page.
And this post if you want to see how I pack my plein air painting kit in a cigar box.

“100 Years of Women” talk at the College of William & Mary

In the fall of 2018, The College of William & Mary in Virginia, my alma mater, invited me to give a talk during the “100 Years of Women” anniversary exhibit. The talk was part of the Department of Art and Art History’s Alumni Speaker Series. It was a humbling experience to give a talk in the very lecture hall where I took my first art history survey class as a freshman in 1998.

I spoke about how motherhood spurred me to get serious about my art practice, how spending time in the outdoors fuels me and my work, my art-making process, some of the stories behind my work, and why art matters. Watch the talk below.

You can watch my other talks here:

Demystifying Abstraction

About Paper Mountain and Sky Project, my latest projects

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How My Family Motivates Me

Looking at Paper Mountain
For the last year, I worked on the largest (literally and figuratively) project of my art life, Paper Mountain. The idea of creating this immersive experience for people – something much larger than any of us, that would evoke a mountain – was a driving force in my life. I consider it a major success and I’m really proud of that project. You can see images of this installation and read more about it here.
My other big motivator are my husband and son. It is super important to me to be the best version of myself so that I can be a good partner and parent – and continuing to make artwork is one of the best ways that I can follow my path and be true to who I am and what I am supposed to be doing. Having my son was hands down the biggest catalyst for reframing the way I perceived myself as an artist, and as soon as he was part of my life, I wanted to demonstrate strong work ethic and I wanted him to be proud of me and of my work. I do that by continuing to make art work. Read more about how being a parent has positively impacted my art practice on this blog post.
My family

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How to stretch a big canvas

By popular request, I made a video tutorial showing how to stretch a really large canvas. This one is 5×4 feet. And if you scroll down, you’ll find a time lapse video I made showing how I went about building and stretching a giant canvas (5×6 feet). You’ll notice the bit where I have to cut down one of the cross braces. This doesn’t usually happen, but in this case, the one sent to me wasn’t cut to the right length…

Enjoy!

Looking for more tips for artists? Check out some of my blog posts below:

How to pack a travel watercolor and drawing kit

Timelapse showing how I pack my plein air painting kit

11 Things athletes do that will make you a better artist

Know anyone who might find this interesting? Please share it!

 

The Story Behind Sky Project

Like a lot of artists, I use photography to document my work and to share my process with the world. I sometimes take photos as reference material for my work. And sometimes the photos make the work. In one of my newest works, Sky Project, I crowdsourced photos of the sky via Instagram to make a video projection. People from all over the world shared photos.

The project is a reaction to the outdoor experience as filtered through our phones. We take photos of everywhere we go and everything we do and share them on social platforms such as Instagram. Many people’s experience of the outdoors is entirely based on what is Instagrammable. So how do we continue to have unmediated experiences in nature with the constant distraction of telephones in our lives? Can we still do that?

While technology like our phones and social media connect us, they also sometimes broaden the divisions between us. When we go outside with friends and family, we can feel genuinely deep connections both with each other and the outdoors. Through Sky Project, I encouraged people to look up from their phones, toward the sky that we share with everyone else – to get outside and to look around. Ultimately, I want my work to spur viewers to get outside and experience nature for themselves. I hope that by doing this, we can forge more profound connections with each other and develop a deep appreciation of nature together.

See more of the project along with Paper Mountain HERE. You can see both projects at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in the exhibit “Beyond the Mountain” until April 26th.

Get a video tour of the exhibit on my blog HERE.

Going outside will save us

 

On March 16th, a day after the opening of “Beyond the Mountain” at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, I sat down for a talk about the inspiration behind my work. I explain my painting process, where the ideas for Paper Mountain and Sky Project came from, and why art and going outside will save us. And if you scroll down a little farther, I added a little treat: a private tour of my work in the exhibit. Enjoy!

You can experience the exhibit for yourself until April 25th at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.  To see more of Paper Mountain and Sky Project, visit the project page HERE.

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